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Deconstructing Dinner

Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY

Nelson, B.C. Canada


July 30, 2009


Title: Permaculture at the Blue Raven Farm


Producer/Host - Jon Steinman

Transcript - Anna Ren


Jon Steinman: And welcome to Deconstructing Dinner, a syndicated weekly one-hour radio show and podcast produced in Nelson, British Columbia at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY. I'm Jon Steinman.


On today's episode we revisit with the topic of permaculture, a concept and philosophy that has grown significantly in popularity since we first aired a show on the topic back in 2006.


Back in September 2008, Deconstructing Dinner's Andrea Langlois visited The Blue Raven Permaculture Farm on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. We'll listen in on Andrea's visit and then travel to San Francisco, California and then off to Devon, England and take a glimpse at two more of the many examples of how permaculture is being adopted worldwide as a new way of cultivating food, shelter and energy and doing so while maintaining a harmonious relationship with their surroundings. Instead of working against nature as agriculture and other systems so often do, permaculture seeks to work within it.


increase music and fade into the background as student soundbites play.


Student #1: Permaculture is consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for the provision of local needs. Permaculture is permanent, sustainable culture.


Student #2: Permaculture is the evolution of agriculture.


Student #3: Permaculture is holistic living.


Student #4: Permaculture is a way of creating sustainable human settlements over time that create a harmonious relationship with all of the systems within that; including animals, people and anything you put in it further benefits the system and the Earth is never left in deficit, but rather is left in a much richer state than it was to begin with.


Student #5: Permaculture is us, humans, learning from nature and how to live within nature, sustainably.


Student #6: Permaculture is abundant fertility.


Student #7: Permaculture is really the whole relationship of the life cycle and how we want to give back to the Earth as much as we take, or we can give back more.


Student #8: Permaculture is working with ecological systems.


Student #9: Permaculture is looking at how your actions affect the world around you and becoming conscious of that.


Student #10: Permaculture is empowering.


JS: Those are the voices of students enrolled in a three-week permaculture design course offered at Blue Raven Farm on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. Hosted by instructors Brandon and Patti Bauer, Deconstructing Dinner's Andrea Langlois visited the farm in September 2008.


Patti Bauer: My name is Patti Bauer and I am here on the farm with my husband and son, the Blue Raven Permaculture Farm on Salt Spring Island. And I discovered permaculture by absolute chance. Someone had asked me to come to Mexico to implement a permaculture design in a small community there; I had absolutely no experience other than doing environmental work.


Brandon Bauer: My name is Brandon Bauer and I live on the Blue Raven Farm on Salt Spring Island. I've been studying permaculture since 1995 and I dropped out of university because there was nothing like that at the institutions at that time to help people learn to live a life that wasn't participating in the chaos.




Brandon Bauer: I was at a class in university called Developing Sustainable Communities; we sat around and we talked a lot, there was no hands-on, there was no skills training and there wasn't even a study of native ecology. I realized very quickly that a community is not sustainable unless there is food, so I started to seek out perennial food systems and skill practices that would aid in unified system design, looking at agriculture, life in a community and people living together in a whole new perspective.




Andrea Langlois: We've been led to the trees and it sounds like you might have a special role to play with the trees on this farm.


Brandon Bauer: When you think about perennial agriculture, there's a lot of money and energy consumed in creating annual vegetables, especially corn, soy and meat products. In order to look at more perennial system, the obvious answer became trees. The amount of biological diversity from different climates that are similar all over the world, just the sheer amount of food that one can consume on a yearly basis, just by turning agriculture into perennial forage systems.


We have apples, plums, pears, peaches, apricots, almonds, species of edible dogwoods, Monkey Puzzle, chestnuts, English Walnut, Black Walnut, pine nuts, olives, lemons, pomegranates, mulberries and figs. So, we're really working on maximizing the amount of different types of foods that we eat; and those are just tree crops, that's not all the other perennials that we can incorporate into these systems and medicinals.


Originally, I started by looking into nutrition, Chinese Medicine and European Herbalism; I realized that many of the people that practice those practices don't know how the plant grows, how to harvest it, or how to prepare it and actually consume it as medicine. So that opened up a whole other box of possibility and opportunity in medicine. Such as gingko, Linden trees, elm, beech, apple, Garry Oak, and the native species too; so, really incorporating as much diversity of native and non-native species into these systems as we possibly can. It allows us to forage and eat from our land from May all the way through to November. Then there's dried fruit and preserved fruit that keep us going for years afterwards. We're eating the squash that Patti probably showed you, a 22-23 pound Winter squash that will keep for up to a year. So, there's never a shortage, there's never a time when we have to worry about what we're going to eat.




Patti Bauer: Why we have chosen to offer courses on our land is because from a macro-perspective we could work on particular environmental projects, get involved, work on computers, write articles for the newspaper, fight, beg, plead or educate people on environmental issues. But the real truth is when you put your hands in the Earth, you maintain the nucleus that you have and you set examples with what it is that you do, that's when you see the change happening within people. Having twenty-five students here for the last three weeks has been more rewarding than any other environmental project I've ever worked on. By teaching one person, that person will go off and teach another. I think the feeling that I had prior to this course beginning was this sense that I'm about to teach twenty-five people what it is that I know about permaculture, I know the experience that I had once I had done my permaculture design course and realized what those twenty-five people are going to bring to themselves and then to their own communities. So, the more people that understand it and know about it, then the better off we are on this planet.




JS: This is Deconstructing Dinner. You're listening to Brandon and Patti Bauer of The Blue Raven Permaculture Farm on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia.


Permaculture (otherwise known as permanent agriculture or permanent culture) is similar to agriculture in that both systems are consciously designed and maintained, but permacultural systems instead seek to mimic the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. In doing so, permaculture moves beyond the separation of food, energy shelter and people and instead cultivates a harmonious integration of these elements. The philosophy behind permaculture is one of working with, rather than against, nature.


When we begin to observe our surroundings through this lens of integrated systems, how we conceive community can change quite dramatically. As Brandon Bauer escorts Deconstructing Dinner's Andrea Langlois around the farm, we can hear Brandon refer to the trees and plants on the farm as part of a community. Community, as permaculture is concerned, involves more than just people.


Brandon Bauer: There's Chinese Chestnuts, English Walnuts and Siberian Mulberries and they are all selected varieties for eating. The mulberries are medicinal as well, there's nitrogen fixers that we put into the community systems because the nitrogen fixed in the trees and these types of plants fixed in the soil, feeds and provides nitrogen for the trees around them; and nitrogen is what makes trees grow. If we provide the plant that's providing that service within the community, then we're putting less energy into the system and the system is growing on its own very effectively.


There's more chestnuts, there's apples, edible oaks, American Black Walnuts, cherries, beech, more chestnuts, more walnuts, there's even some redwoods and sequoias out here, and we've planted some Monkey Puzzles out. I let a lot of the native trees come back too. The Crab Apples and the Saskatoons, we leave them because they are growing there for a reason, we then graft them over to edible varieties of pears and apples. So by using native and natural resources as resource to do the work, make agriculture and fruit selection less expensive.


AL: So how long did it take you, from moving on to the land, to a place where you felt like you were eating most of the year, off the land?


BB: I guess it really started to sink in the third and fourth year. Now this year, we're finally actually getting new fruit, new flowers. In year five, things really start taking off, we're getting our first figs and all of our Japanese Plums rooted this year, so we have five new varieties this year. All four different species of medicinal Tree Peonies flowered this year and that's amazing when that happens.


AL: Do you have time and a belly big enough to eat all the food?


BB: Heck no, I couldn't eat all this! It's great! I like to give it all away to my friends and sell it at markets. Any excess, we use to make jam and preserves and save it over the winter.


AL: Do you have a box program?


BB: Yep, we have a box program that supplies six other families around the neighbourhood and on the island. So that's really effective because it's nice to spread healthy food to people. It feels really good.




BB: In this section, most of it is still pretty much dark forest. There's lots of alders, but the snow breaks them. We're at such a high elevation that we get a lot of snow and some really cold weather. It gets down to minus fourteen down here for periods of time, even as much as two weeks are longer. So many of the things people can do at sea-level, like leave their beets in the ground, we can't do up here. We have to have a mini root cellar and a small storage area that we make in the basement for preserving some of our more tender root crops. It's a little bit different and also we're faced with the particular challenge of a soil type that's very unique; we're on glacial outwash and it's twenty feet of white sand and small gravel. It's great drainage and it's really great. It's a sterile slate without a lot of fungal infection or other things that come with previous agriculture, but holding fertility and nutrients in the soil becomes a very large challenge. Probably fifty percent of our energy goes into building healthy soil, so that we can grow healthy food.


AL: People are talking a lot these days about integrated farming, where you have animals. What kind of animals do you have here?


BB: Right now we have a dog, chickens and a cat. I'd like to get some ducks, but we're only on five acres and we've planted so many trees that any other bigger animals we would have would really take a lot of energy and maintenance, so we're mostly going to stick with chickens, maybe some fowl in this system. They're great! They eat a lot of the bugs, pest insects, weeds, kitchen scraps and the garden by-products.


AL: I have a question that might sound like a devil's advocate question, pretending I'm a skeptic, which I would have to pretend. It seems very utopic, very sustainable what you're doing here, but there's a lot of people that live in big cities and we can't all live like this and a farm like this probably can't feed more than twenty people a year. What would be your answer to that problem if we looked at permaculture as a very optimal type of philosophy?


BB: Well, imagine all the areas in the city. There's trees growing and many of those trees are flowering ornamental fruit varieties, many areas are such a lot of grass. And permaculture's really amazing because it can be applied on five thousand acres and it can be applied on one-quarter of an acre, or five hundred square feet. Imagine neighbourhoods taking the fences down between their backyards and allotment gardening the areas in the back with playfield for children incorporated. So that kids still have a safe place to play within a neighbourhood block and there's food growing around all of the houses. On the North side of the street with the warm exposure to the sun, grows the eggplants, the tomatoes, the peppers and the basil. On the South side of the street grows radishes, peas, spinach, kale and cabbages.


Then you swap with your neighbour across the street, the interesting thing about that is, most people who live in the city don't know their neighbour across the street and that's really sad. Through reduction of isolationism and developing more human interaction that's based around trust as opposed to fear, I think the cities could probably be some of the most diverse agricultural systems out there. There's diversity from every nation or many nations within a city, many of those people brought seeds of their parents and grandparents from the country that they lived in. Some of the richest diversity we have in Canada comes from settlers in the last hundred years, lots of cold hearty vegetables, beans and fruits and things like that have come over from Europe, Asia and Africa in the form of people. They're growing those gardens in their backyards, on their apartment windows, boxes and that diversity was cultivated and spread out. An enormous amount of food could be grown in the cities, not only that, but cities are all built on the original agricultural land of settlers; so the soil within those systems is extremely deep and very fertile.




JS: We're currently walking through the Blue Raven Permaculture Farm here on today's episode of Deconstructing Dinner. The farm is located on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia.


With models of permaculture seeking to integrate food, water, shelter, energy and people into one harmonious and integrated system, The Blue Raven Permaculture Farm incorporates some unique strategies into its daily operations that go beyond just growing food. These strategies are also examined and implemented as part of the farm's three-week permaculture design course.


Certainly one critical piece of any system seeking to integrate humans with our surroundings is dealing with our waste, and in particular, human waste.


Deconstructing Dinner's Andrea Langlois spoke with Blue Raven Farm's Patti Bauer on how the human waste on the farm remains on the farm and is used in a rather beneficial way.


We're then led into the farm's portable shower to freshen up and receive a lesson on swales and guilds. Swales are a human-made land formation used in permaculture to slow and capture rain runoff by spreading it horizontally across the landscape facilitating the runoff into the soil. Guilds, as Patti will also refer to, are groups of plants, animals and micro bacteria, which work particularly well together and are one of the primary and ongoing strategies of permaculture systems.


PB: Every time someone uses the outhouse, we obviously mix it with some sawdust or woodchips, once that hole's been filled we cover it up, let it decompose for about six months and then we plant a tree in it, so that's how we're bringing fertility to the area. As people know, if you are actually eating the food with the minerals and nutrients in your septic system, you're basically removing a mass amount of minerals and nutrients from your land, so it's quite crucial to keep it on your land, as best as you possibly can. Most municipalities, for example on Salt Spring Island, everybody has a septic system that is pumped and up until this year, has been shipped off island. So all of our human waste has been shipped off island and treated elsewhere because the amount of greenhouse gas that are inherent in doing so is absolutely massive. Fortunately on Salt Spring we've begun a composting facility to compost our manure and we have advocated, for a long time, for a methane digester to actually be built for the island. On a large scale, if all the municipalities actually gathered all their septic refuse, put it in a methane digester, capped it, composted the matter and then utilized it to run buses, or whatever could be run by it. In order to deal with toxic waste that's found in most of the septic refuse, you can utilize mushrooms to pull out heavy metals from the waste product itself.


During the course we did a planting of swales, established guilds underneath all of our fruit trees, you'll see that throughout the land- building compost piles, you see them everywhere. I want to show you this sweet idea we had a portable shower! Basically, it's hooked up to the outdoor kitchen and the hand washing station. We've built a portable shower for the students who are living here, basically four people are able to lift that and move that to another section once the guild itself has been established throughout the land.


On the contour of this land, where all the Scotch Broom are, what we end up seeing are a lot of people actually burn their biomass. If they've got tree branches or Scotch or whatever the case may be, they make a giant bonfire and burn it. And they burn it usually in times when it's raining so that the amount of particulates and greenhouse gas emissions, etcetera increases rather significantly. But what we do is we utilize our biomass on the contour of the land, rather than creating a series of swales, we've created a series of berms on the contour of the land; what that does is that stops any sort of erosion and as the water piles up, it slows, it creates fertility in the particular pocket in your plant trees on the uphill and downhill side of each particular berm. So this area will become a rather exceptionally established planting of all sorts of different fruit and nut trees. There's pine nuts, persimmons, grafted trees, cherries, walnuts, hawthorns that have been grafted onto Asian Pears and etcetera.


One thing which we have gleaned, which has been very beneficial to us, is that when we're building the berms what ends up happening, is that when you see a log fall down in the forest you'll see trailing blackberries, for example, will come and stitch it down to the earth. What's happening is all the trailing blackberries are actually stitching down our berms, then we get a mass amount of flowers, bees and fruit! So it's absolutely been a really fantastic solution to dealing with our biomass.


BB: Permaculture has a set of principles and ethics that we try to abide by and work with; they're more like guidelines and give structure to follow. One of those is use appropriate technology and use technology appropriately. So the solar showers are incorporating waste products from available technology or by-products. Many people convert their swimming pools from solar-heated water to natural gas heated water, when they do that, there's a lot of after-market solar panels and solar water heaters that come on the second-hand market, and often times they're very inexpensive.


Using simple technology and physics, like the laws of thermodynamics, we can operate that solar shower without a pump mechanism, if the system is gravity-fed. It really allows us to clean ourselves using water that's not consuming non-sustainable energy, it's consuming sun energy. One thing I've noticed is water is a very conductive element, a fabric almost, and it's very susceptible to electrical energy, so a lot of our water heaters in our houses that heat showers off of electrical energy, the water in the shower feels different than water heated by the sun and your body responds to that. So just feeling those things makes you want to cultivate more of those things in your life. There's a couple of things like that; almost all the building we do here comes from recycled materials. If we do buy new lumber, then it comes from, basically, within a ten minute walk from our home. If not, it's coming from by-products of a lot slab wood use. People often times move to a new place, they get very busy very quickly, overanxious so to speak and they bite off more than they can chew. They cut down a bunch of trees, they mill it up, then it sits there and it loses value and loses value. Then they're looking to get rid of it, and I can come in and take that wood off their hands at a lower value to provide a service for them, interacting with their by-product. Then I bring it home, clean it up, and it's usually cedar so it lasts a long time anyway, make it nice and then I use it on the projects here on the farm.




JS: Global Warming by Niyorah a musician hailing from the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.


This is Deconstructing Dinner - a syndicated weekly one-hour radio show and Podcast produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY in Nelson, British Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman. Today's broadcast is archived on our website at and posted under the July 30th, 2009 episode titled Permaculture at The Blue Raven Farm.


Located on Salt Spring Island British Columbia, Deconstructing Dinner's Andrea Langlois spent a couple of days on the farm in September 2008, shortly before a three-week long permaculture design course offered at the farm was about to wrap-up.


Permaculture (otherwise known as permanent agriculture or permanent culture) is similar to agriculture in that both are consciously designed and maintained, but permacultural systems seek to mimic the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. In doing so, permaculture moves beyond the separation of food, energy, shelter and people and instead cultivates a harmonious integration of all of these elements. The philosophy behind permaculture is one of working with, rather than against, nature.


Closer to the end of today's episode we'll travel outside of Canada and hear from others around the world exploring the concepts of permaculture including an urban permaculturalist in San Francisco, California, and some forward-thinking farmers in England.


But to close out our visit to The Blue Raven Farm, we'll hear once again from Patti and Brandon Bauer.


With the farm being home to a number of studying interns each year, we'll learn of how the interns interact with the farm and Brandon also shares details on the three week long permaculture design course offered at the farm.




Patti Bauer: In order to facilitate the students for the course, we do the meals together three times a day, this is an area which is their outdoor kitchen. This will be utilized for interns who come to study with us on the land.


What we've developed here (it was a project by Catherine who was an intern from the University of British Columbia studying with us this summer) is all recycled material, which is lovely, it's something that you can find it everywhere, and it has a great water system. In the grease trap that was used, we use all of the oats and barley straw (after we have harvested all the oats and barley straw, we use that because I believe there's a beneficial micro-organism that's within these), it's all fed through here and it's feeding our plants that are running down to this particular area. Over time this will get fabulously established.


This is a small intern garden happening here. This used to be a tree nursery, but we've moved it into a working garden for interns so rather than just working with us on the land, they've got their own place to do their own kind of planting, testing and such. And all through out the land there are mass amounts of nitrogen fixers, timber and nut trees that are planted all throughout. Different projects with different students we've done this, tree plantings, usually those are done in the fall, or late winter. Probably every single season we've had a couple of students and now that we have more infrastructure in place, we'll be taking five students next year to study with us.




BB: Basically the course consists of seventy-two hours of class time and seventy-two hours of hands-on skill training and working in our's or other farmer's gardens. We've visited an organic mushroom and sprout facility on the island, an ecoforest operation (where he has many different trees from all over the world planted in his systems). We've visited Dan Jason of Salt Spring Seed Company. We've visited Michael Ableman of Foxglove Farm, who does extraordinary intensive annual agriculture and high production. And then we spent a considerable amount of time here on the farm; we've planted a hundred trees on site in three weeks, we attached the water catchment system and the overflow system to the house (for the rainwater catchment).


We looked at solar and AC generated electricity, off the grid systems. Mostly the curriculum is designed from patterns to details. We started with ecology, weather, trees, the water cycle and soils. And then we moved to mycology, timber systems, seed agriculture, broad-scale agriculture. And then we refine that down even further to things like water catchment, electricity, plumbing, propagation, grafting.


Now we're doing harvesting and seed saving as well on the farm and at Dan's we did some of that. So really going from this concept of understanding our teacher; nature, ecology, weather, trees, water and soil, those are our teachers. Our job is constantly to observe and interact with those teachers. From there once we understand the language that they're speaking and what they're trying to show us, then we can go on to design systems, mimic those patterns and relationships, act in ways with intention on our own land that mimic those patterns and relationships. So it can be applied on a very small scale with just one tree, three shrubs and some potatoes or very large scale to five hundred acre forest plantings and orchard systems and cattle and whatnot.


There's also a whole section on animals. How do we incorporate cows, horses, chickens, ducks, pigs, goats, sheep and the occasional elephant into our systems depending on what country we're in.


AL: Snakes, I've seen today.


BB: Lots of snakes here; they eat our slugs. So the biological diversity again is one of our most important tools here. They really consume a lot of the slugs, small mice and grasshoppers. The snakes are one of our most important resources on site.


AL: We're walking past the garden here. This one's been put to bed?


BB: This one's in the process of being put to bed. There's some things like leeks, cabbage and kale that will stay in through the Winter. And the parsley will make it over Winter, but most everything else we're just finishing harvesting. [Such as] The dry beans, in the white barrels we have Japanese Mountain Yams, which are cold hearty yam that's true yam to this climate and its perennials, so we'll harvest those here in a couple of weeks once the vines die down. We'll collect any seed that's off of it and see if we can make some more. And they make basically a one foot long tuber in those barrels every year and its related to the Dioscorea, which is a medicinal herb, but it's a perennial food crop that most people have never had. It's a vine so it doesn't take up a lot of space, yet it makes a tuber so it provides a lot of energy and storage of energy over Winter. It's beautiful, it's got little heart-shaped leaves and the hummingbirds really love the flowers.


AL: Are they red?


BB: No they're very small and white and it's very interesting that they attract hummingbirds. Another thing I'm really amazed at by all of this is the sheer amount of other forms of biological diversity that move into an area when you provide niches, habitat and food. We have so many birds that come and visit us all year long. Because of that, we have all the predators too; we get the Cooper's Hawks, the Peregrines, the Sharp-shinned Hawks. And we have a Barred Owl, a Screech Owl and a Northern Pygmy Owl that I often see hunting on my farm, on this little spot here. To me that's a sign that there's a great amount of wealth and health in this system; if we can support that level of biological diversity, from the smallest birds like the Winter Wrens to some of the largest like the eagles, the vultures, the owls and the hawks, that's really something that amazes me more than anything. Another one is the amount of insects that we have; we documented nine different species of bees on this land last year, plus honey bees, so that's ten if you want to count them, they're not native, all of the other nine are native wild species to British Columbia. To me, with all of the other concern that's happening around honey bees and pollination, to cultivate niches and habitat for the native species that do the pollinating, is pretty much imperative at this point.




JS: Brandon and Patti Bauer of Blue Raven Permaculture Farm on Salt Spring Island. Again, you can find more information about the farm and their three-week long permaculture design course by visiting the Deconstructing Dinner website at Today's episode is archived under the July 30th, 2009 broadcast.


Permaculture is indeed a hot topic across the globe among anyone concerned with sustainability, peak oil, non-renewable energy, water, climate change, and environmental pollution, and the resources available on the Internet to learn more about this rapidly growing philosophy of living are quite extensive. Deconstructing Dinner came across a number of interesting segments of permaculturists from other parts of the world including this next one of urban permaculturist Kevin Bayuk of San Francisco. This segment is available in its video format at, a website prepared by a couple in the Shenandoah Valley of Virigina outside of Washington, D.C.


Kevin Bayuk: My name is Kevin Bayuk and I'm a permaculture designer living here in San Francisco. This is my garden that we're standing in right now, I rent an apartment in an Edwardian home, one block off of Haight Street.


Permaculture to me is using a design science to utilize ecological principles of nature, that you or I can observe working in natural systems; we can translate these patterns into designs. Observing the principles that seem to drive those patterns, applying those principles to the designs to design our lives, to meet all of our needs. So our needs for food, water, shelter, community, loving relationships, comfort, all those needs, permaculture provides a pathway to meet all those needs abundantly, without taking away from the natural ecosystems; in fact, enhancing them, giving back, providing more conditions conducive to life.


Have you ever been on an airplane and they say, "if the cabin begins to lose pressure, put your mask on first before helping the person next to you?" In some ways, that to me is analogous to what we're doing here. In order for me to be effective in helping somebody else, I really need to understand how to take care of my own needs first. It's at the heart of permaculture, really the prime directive of permaculture is to be able to take care of your needs first and then as soon as you are skilled in that, to begin sharing. The total irony is here, where we're bathing in Babylonian affluence it's like, "I don't even want to know how to take care of my own needs! I can barely pay my rent! All for costs for my car. Look at gasoline prices! I have to have an hour and a half commute. Really, when we step back though, those are all strategies. Nobody has to go to work, they choose to go to work as a strategy to get the money to pay the rent because they want to have a particular sense of comfort or whatever they want in their life. There's a lot of different strategies to meet those needs. Once we start seeing those strategies, we can begin to design. If I pick that strategy, I can meet both needs at once. If I move to within walking distance of where my current job is, all of a sudden I shave off that hour commute every day back and forth, so that's two more hours to my day. The redesign of one's life, you can find that there is just an abundance of time and energy, if we pick strategies that really are fulfilling us and meet our needs. Trees are an example of a design decision of how you're going to meet your needs.


The Santa Rosa Plums here definitely yields plums, but it also creates a certain amount of precipitation, there's a lot of fog coming through in San Francisco, a lot of moisture in the air, and the leaves and branches of the tree are able to precipitate that water and create additional watering for the garden, which is important in a climate where we're almost semi-arid twenty or so inches a year on average. By looking at forests and seeing how productive they are, the question arises; is there a way we can mimic the pattern of what a forest is providing and design an agriculture that will serve our needs for food, but create all these additional benefits for life.


What's almost cliché in permaculture now is the herb spiral, you take a five and a half, six feet diameter circle, we mounted up some compost and some soil about four feet high, then we took this urbanite, of course is broken up concrete, typically this ends up in the landfill. Do you know how much garbage goes out of San Francisco every day? Six million pounds of garbage. They're taking this resource that was going to be in the landfill, this couple hundred pounds of concrete, and stacking it in this spiral around that mound. What we created was additional planting space, so that's a design element, we're playing with space and we're also playing with time in certain ways because there's a successionary principle that we can use that certain herbs will be growing at certain different times a season. We jokingly call weeds carbon pathways because they're still collecting the photons, capturing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and adding carbon into the soil. A lot of people have the habit of just puling weeds out of the soil and they just keep coming back! Yeah, they're going to keep coming back, you're creating conditions conducive to the weeds. They're pioneering, trying to amend the soil, capturing the carbon; they have a lifetime too, in succession; if we just let them there, over time they probably wouldn't grow once the soil becomes rich enough, so that it's not amenable to them, somebody else would come in. Soil is really built in forests and perennial grasslands, few places on Earth where soil really builds. Building soil of course is the absolute contra positive from all agriculture that we've seen over the last few thousand years.


Traditional agriculture is an example of drawing away from natural ecosystems, destroying soil, having it wash away, having the nutrients and life, deserts have a lot less life. Some of the biomass yields, especially from the trees, the perennials and what I don't eat from the annual vegetables, I harvest that on a regular basis into a pile that I make, typically three and a half, four foot cube essentially, and then I add manure that the ducks provide, I wet it all down with pond water from the bathtub pond, that's the three hundred pound cast iron tub surrounded by three or four hundred pounds of urbanite. And every morning my meditative ritual is to come out and turn the compost pile, I'm either turning the pile or I'm building the next pile. It gets really hot, it gets up to a 130 to 150 degrees, I tend to urinate on the pile. For me, it's better than flushing down three to five gallons of drinking water down into the combined storm and drain sewer system in San Francisco. In about eighteen days, I get somewhere around 4700 cubic inches of great compost soil, which I then return to the garden to create the beds.


With the ducks in particular, which are somewhat new to the system, we get incredible yield so every morning we get three to four eggs or so, so I get my breakfast typically, a three egg omelette with some onion, different greens mixed into a little omelette. So I can have breakfast every morning and there's enough here that I can have lunch, a salad. There's a diversity of greens, there's sixty edible greens in this garden.


I think the disaster is here, if you asked anybody else in the world without the white skin and the Christian name, they would tell you that there's a disaster that's abound. I believe the crisis is already acute in here, I'm not necessarily feeling it just because of my bioregion and where I am in space and time. Many, many, many other people are feeling it very acutely every day. I feel drawn to it, inspired just to focus all my intention on the solutions and then to share those with as many people as possible.


JS: San Francisco, California's Kevin Bayuk. A video version of that interview is archived at and at




JS: In taking us to the end of today's one-hour feature on permaculture here on Deconstructing Dinner, we'll travel to England, where an excellent television documentary on permaculture was produced by wildlife filmmaker Rebecca Hosking who sought to investigate how she might transform her family farm in the country of Devon into a low energy farm. In her quest for answers, she came across permaculture and a number of English farmers who apply the philosophy on their own land. Here's a short segment from that production featuring some of those permaculturalists featured in the film.


Rebecca Hosking: Now I'm realizing we'll probably have to diversify, changing not just how we farm but what we farm. This is where I get stuck because I can see how you can farm cattle without ploughing and using natural fertility, but how do you grow everything else we need? It seems there are a number of people around the world who have already grappled with this problem; they've developed a system known as permaculture. Britain's leading expert is Patrick Whitefield. Permaculture seems to challenge all the normal approaches to farming.


Patrick Whitefield: People often say that there are two ways of doing things; one is by drudgery and the other is by chucking fossil fuel at it. Permaculture is about a third way of doing things, and that is by conscious design.


RH: Basically, you're designing the labour out? Or are you designing the need for that energy out?


PW: Both.


RH: Why does it take so much manpower and energy to sustain farmland when you look at a natural ecosystem, we've got woods behind us, and that can just keep going?


PW: Because this inherently, is not what the landscape wants to do. And if you leave the landscape totally alone, it would turn into something like that [the forest]. So that is the low energy option. In a natural ecosystem, there's no work by any humans, there's no waste and it's thriving! Look at it!




RH: It's easy to forget that Britain used to be a forested island, as so much of the energy we expend in farming is just to stop it reverting back. But woodlands has evolved over millions of years to be the most efficient growing system in our climate. In that respect, I can understand its appeal if you're trying to design the best way to grow food, but the obvious problem for me is; well, we can't eat trees.


With all the greatest respect, a few wild berries is not a cornfield.


PW: Of course it isn't. No, it's insignificant. So what we've got to do is to take the principles of this and see how far we can bend them towards something more edible.


RH: A food-growing system based on natural ecology really appeals to my naturalist side, but the farmer's daughter in me needs a bit more convincing.


I suppose the big question is could permaculture feed Britain?


PW: Good question. Although the first question to ask actually is can the present methods go on feeding Britain? And actually that is doubtful. Well no it's not because in the long term, it's absolutely certain the present methods can't because they're so entirely dependent on fossil fuel energy. So, we haven't really got any choice other than to find something different.


RH: Last year, I may have dismissed permaculture as not proper farming, but with I've learned about the oil situation, I'm keen to see it in practice. A visit to a permaculture small holding in the mountains of Snowdonia has given me the opportunity. Now the farmland I'm used to seeing is clumps of trees surrounded by fields, but this is the complete opposite, a collection of small clearings in a massive woodland. It may not look like a farm, but it clearly works. For a few days work each week, Chris Dixon and his wife Lynn produce all the fruit, veg and meat they need, and the fuel to cook it. But twenty years ago, when they arrived, it was degraded marginal pasture land. The first thing they did was let much of the land return to its natural state. Now the fertility has returned to the land. Observing the forest as it regenerated offered all the inspiration they needed to design their small holding.


RH: But it is a woodland still, and it is chaos.


Chris Dixon: It is chaos, but chaos in this state is very highly ordered, very highly structured, it's just that we see it as untidy and a mess. Nature doesn't see it like that at all. Every plant is doing something useful, important and valuable on the side. For example, the Gourd is fixing nitrogen, the Bracken is collecting potash, that sort of thing. They gave me the feeling that every plant is important in some way.


RH: Everywhere you go in Dixon's small holding seems to be teeming with wildlife.


How important is the biodiversity (we're hearing birds above us as well), how important is all of that to this system?


CD: Very important because by encouraging the habitat for birds, we're encouraging phosphate cycling through the system. Again, phosphate is another crucial plant nutrient, every plant needs them. And phosphate you'll find in things like insects and seed, so the birds that eat insects and seeds, they're accumulating phosphates and the excess comes out in their dung.


RH: So up here in the mountains there's no need for sacks for fossil fuel derived nutrients, it's all done by nature; nitrates, potash, phosphate. And no need either for petroleum-based pesticides.


CD: We use ducks, Khaki Campbells, for slug control. We kept ducks for twenty-two years and the Khaki Campbells are the best slug eaters and it can be very difficult to find slugs in here during the Summer, so it's great.


RH: Chris's vegetable garden may look untidy to regular gardener, but like in the woodland every plant is serving a purpose. For example, some deter pests, some help drainage, some encourage bees for pollination and others have long roots that pluck minerals deep from the soil.


JS: And that was a short segment of Permaculture: Farms for the Future, a television documentary produced by filmmaker and future permaculturalist Rebecca Hosking. Hosking resides in the county of Devon, England. More permaculture resources are available on the Deconstructing Dinner website at


ending theme


JS: And that was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, a syndicated weekly one-hour radio show and podcast produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY in Nelson, British Columbia. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant John Ryan.


The theme music for Deconstructing Dinner is courtesy of Nelson-area resident Adham Shaikh. Other music heard on today's episode was also courtesy of Adham Shaikh and Shankar, recorded live in Killaloe, Ontario.


Deconstructing Dinner is distributed free of charge to campus/community radio stations across the country and relies on the financial support from you, the listener. Support for the program can be donated through our website at or by dialing 250-352-9600.


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